Metropolitan Family Service: Cheryl Edmonds
Metropolitan Family Service (MFS) helps people move beyond the limitations of poverty, inequity and social isolation with a focus on early-childhood development and youth success, community-based health and wellness, and promoting individual and family economic well-being. It serves 30,000 individuals of all ages in the Portland, OR, metropolitan area and in Southwest Washington
ENCORE TALENT: Skills, motivation yield results
After an 18-year career at Hewlett Packard and an early retirement package, Cheryl Edmonds was ready for a different kind of impact. High-tech was “wonderful up to a point, but it lacked heart; there was that heart piece that was missing.”
Cheryl was recruited as an Encore Fellow to enhance the volunteer program at Metropolitan Family Service (MFS) and other Portland-area nonprofits, working with local businesses to promote volunteerism among baby boomers through Social Venture Partners, Portland. Her goal was to develop a skills-based volunteer program to meet the needs of nonprofits as well as potential volunteers’ expectations.
Cheryl first had to bridge the divide between for profit and nonprofit cultural assumptions; some MFS staff expressed skepticism about bringing in individuals without nonprofit experience:
“I started by asking program managers, “If money were no object and you could bring in someone who could really help you build your program, what would that project be?” When presented with an idea, I would say, ‘You know what? We could go find you a really great person to help you with this project, this thing you haven’t been doing because you haven’t had the bandwidth.’ “
“Then they would say something like, ‘I’m concerned about how much time it is going to take to manage this person. I also wonder about how to talk to a corporate person who may not have had much experience with nonprofit culture—I’ve been in nonprofits for my whole life, and we are very collegial. Will it be difficult to get to know them?’ [I’d answer]. . . not if they are given enough background about how this all might work for them and there is a clear project plan and clear expectations about your availability, communication preferences, so they know how to reach you.”
“What you should expect is that these are really highly skilled, highly motivated people who know what you want because the project has been well defined, and know how to access the resources. They are wired for making things happen as efficiently as possible. Ultimately, they want to do a good job and make a difference.”
“Then they would say, ‘So, I’m not going to have to spend a lot of extra time supporting this person?’ No, in fact, by giving them freedom, you will probably be much happier with the results because most of these folks don’t want or need to be micromanaged.”
With her no-nonsense approach and support from MFS leadership, Cheryl identified two pilot projects, selecting enthusiastic project champions willing to invest in making the partnership a success. In addition to her project management skills, Edmonds tapped her network to recruit encore-stage volunteers.
NONPROFIT BENEFITS: A supervisor’s perspective
“Our experience with Cheryl made us aware of the depth and strength of the 50+ crowd and what they can contribute to the nonprofit sector. The deeper and richer understanding of all that’s available in that talent pool . . . certainly came as a result.”
Judy Strand commented on the strengths Edmonds brought to the role, including intellectual curiosity, passion, project management skills, follow-through and initiative, noting, “She really did her homework and she made it easy for me; in fact it was enjoyable for me to work with Cheryl. She had a complete capacity to manage this new project and bring in creative thinking.”
Judy directly saw the value of maturity. “Our experience with Cheryl made us aware of the depth and strength of the 50+ crowd and what they can contribute to the nonprofit sector. The deeper and richer understanding of all that’s available in that talent pool . . . certainly came as a result.”
Cheryl worked on two projects during her one-year fellowship: updating MFS branding/messaging and enhancing awareness of an MFS low-income car loan and financial education program, Ways to Work. Cheryl successfully recruited skilled encore fellows for both of these projects. She developed a toolkit, including a recruitment and on-boarding process to attract high-level encore talent for short-term volunteer capacity-building projects. The program was, by all accounts, very effective. Edmonds’ work was so valued that MFS used her encore consultant model in six additional internal capacity-building projects.
After her fellowship, Cheryl continued to work on special projects for MFS; projects Cheryl managed since her fellowship included a social enterprise business plan, a public relations effort to improve messaging and develop a state-of-the-art website and most recently, to do up front planning for the first agency-wide database for proving and improving MFS’s impact.
Content adapted from Doing Good by Doing Well: Encore Fellows Who Enhance the Capacity of Nonprofits to Serve Children and Youth